Recently, I was speaking to a group of high school students about staying safe online. “You guys are active on social media. There’s very little we can say to get you to stop posting,” I told them. “That said, I want to challenge you to post like a celebrity…”
The kids perked up while the adults turned to each other in confusion. Our teens are posting and sharing their lives online. The “post like a celebrity” challenge is one that creates a plan they can relate to and that helps them navigate how and when and why and in what manner to post.
Understand the Dangers of Social Media
Our teens don’t know everyone who follows them. Having mutual connections does not equate to vetting or actually knowing someone. Our posts can very easily help a stranger or predator go from cyberstalking to actual physical interactions. It’s important to share those stories with the teens in your life in an age appropriate manner.
Most social media platforms and gaming devices have GPS location trackers (think of SnapMap) embedded in the app. It’s critically important that kids and parents understand this as it essentially allows your followers or connections to find out where you are in real time.
How the Stars Do It
I recommend tweens and teens think of themselves as little celebrities and urge them to emulate the posting habits of the celebrities they love. Celebrities never share where they live or where their home offices are or any information that gives you any inroads to reach them. Their location services are off and they do everything possible to make it impossible for you to find them.
Sure, celebrities share post after post and story after story, but look at how they post. We are seeing their meals, parties, concerts and movie sets, makeup application, workouts, etc., but everything is highly staged and their privacy and their safety remain top priority.
Reality Stars are a Little Different
Reality television stars invite us into their homes, but they only do so after a team of attorneys have used their “celebrity” status to legally remove their names and home addresses from all public records. This is not a privilege afforded to the average citizen. They also hire teams of private security to surround their homes and follow them when they are out and about. Sure, they accept social media requests from anyone and everyone. These people are brands that must build their brand equity.
While most of us cannot add as many layers of security and privacy as celebrities, we can learn from their posts and what and how they do and don’t post.
If your teen has aspirations to become a brand or influencer, that’s all the more reason for them to start posting like a celebrity now.
The Rules for Posting like a Celebrity
So what do we do to help keep teens safe online? We meet them where they are and give them real tools and rules to follow.
1. Turn off location services
Location services should always be off when it comes to social media apps and when using your camera. It’s non-negotiable. In fact, if the platform requires your location to operate, use a different platform.
2. Re-think how you take photos
I’m all for good lighting, great filters, and finding your best side, but let’s rethink the rest. Never take a photo right outside your home, never show your address, front door or other identifying factors. If you are inside your home, do not take pictures where your interior doors or windows are shown. Why show a potential stalker/predator where the locks are or worse yet, what kind of locking mechanisms exist in your house, and ultimately, how to get around them?
3. Be smart when you’re on the go
Re-think how you take photos at school, work, or during extracurricular activities. Try not to share what school you attend, where you work, or which teams you are on. I know this is difficult, but you have a duty to be extra careful if you are going to accept requests or followers who are unknown to you.
4. What to do when it’s not your post
There will be times where photos of you are included in other people’s social media (a winning team photo or party, for instance). In those cases, be smart about who starts to follow you after those posts are made. Predators will recognize a child in a dance photo and systematically start following an entire team so by the time they get to their target, the child notices the mutual connections and has their guard down. In some case, I have encouraged teams to have a special meeting about safe posting to remind players that they may draw unwanted attention.
When talking to your teen about social media safety, address the issue honestly and fairly. Include them in the conversation and ask for their feedback so you can find a social media plan they can relate to—and you both can agree on.